Telemark Journal

The Vemork hydroelectric plant


With the Oslo Freedom Forum over, I’m off to Telemark with friends — a Norwegian couple, Kristian and Tone, and their marvelous son, Henrik, age ten months. He’s going to be an American boy, as well as a Norwegian one. Certainly American in spirit. He has a Thomas Jefferson doll. He also has a — get this — KISS onesie. You know, “KISS” as in the rock band? The American flag runs through the letters K-I-S-S, on the onesie. Priceless.

When Henrik was five months, I think, his father sent me a picture of him reading National Review — or at least looking at it, with admiration, I think.

Our group is leaving Oslo for Telemark — a rather storied county in Norway. On our way out of the capital, I notice a police presence outside an embassy — the Iranian embassy. Kristian explains that three embassies are heavily guarded: the Iranian, the American, and the Israeli.

The Iranian embassy needs protection from dissidents and protesters — foes of the regime. The American and Israeli embassies need protection from — well, the Left, the Islamofascists, and so on.

“How pathetic,” I think. “What a pathetic grouping: the U.S. and Israeli embassies, along with the Iranian. What in the world does that tell you?” Two democracies, one totalitarian dictatorship.

Anyway . . .

Telemark is a stunning place, as is Norway at large. Almost every turn brings you a postcard. You can hardly imagine a more formidable combination of trees, rock, and water. Waterfalls in Norway are almost as common as mud puddles elsewhere.

Habitually, Norwegians make a run for the border — the Swedish border. Why? To shop. Because food is so darn expensive in Norway, owing to the protectionist and other screwy policies of the government. Along the Swedish-Norwegian border, they’ve just built a new mall, for Norwegian shoppers. It is 14 soccer fields long.

Consider the absurdity: Norwegians, who live in just about the richest country in the world, organize shopping trips to Sweden. My friends are always trying to tell me that Norway is not a rich country, but rather a country with a rich state. I’m still trying to process this . . .

A delicious fact: The agriculture minister of Norway was caught shopping in Sweden, just inside the border. He may be a good socialist. But, by golly, he’s a savvy shopper.

There are lots of Shell stations in Norway — lots of them. Deep into the Norwegian countryside, we pull into one. There’s a black woman named Esther behind the counter. Interesting. Incongruous. Kind of amazing.

Also, there’s a customer — a local — wearing a T-shirt that says, “I have issues.”

It is quite moving to visit the Vemork hydroelectric plant, outside the town of Rjukan (in the municipality of Tinn, in Telemark County). This was the site of the Nazis’ heavy-water operation. It was here that Norwegian saboteurs interrupted that operation, slowing the Nazis’ drive for an atomic bomb.

If you don’t know this tale, get to know it, at some point. It is a stirring, enthralling, important tale. There was a Hollywood movie, you may recall: The Heroes of Telemark.

In the plant, we see a movie — a different movie, a black-and-white documentary. I have to kind of rub my eyes when I see and listen to this film. It comes from a completely different era — an era of clear thinking and moral confidence, before the muck and murk set in.

The film says, “It mattered a lot who got the bomb. The bomb was merely a tool, though an awesome one. What mattered was who possessed it and why. Hitler had the will to conquer the world; all he needed was a weapon. He had to be stopped. The occupation of Norway was horrible, just horrible. Nazi occupation everywhere was horrible. Mankind was being subjugated. Thank heaven the Americans got the bomb. It ended the war. A bomb in Nazi hands, or Japanese hands, would have perpetuated the war.”

Holy Moses. That’s the sort of thinking that was ruled out of America a long, long time ago. In came moral relativism, moral equivalence, and the rest of the rot. Anyone from an American university, or high school, or junior high, would soil his drawers on seeing this movie. The liberal-arts faculty of Brown would drop dead on the spot.

As we leave Vemork, I have two thoughts, dominantly: first, gratitude for people such as the Telemark heroes, who risked everything, and often lost everything, in order to keep slavery at bay and freedom going. Second, I thought of something a professor said.

It was Ernest May, the diplomatic historian, I believe. He told us, “When studying World War II, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the Allies knew they were going to win, all along. Eventually, they knew. But not all through the war. It wasn’t until the Casablanca Conference that they decided on total victory, rather than a negotiated peace. Don’t study the war as though the outcome were inevitable. It was not.”